(UPDATED MONDAY NIGHT with documents from meeting)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Will Camp Second Chance get a second year at its Myers Way Parcels site?
That question was brought up many times on a cold, snowy afternoon when the idea of living outdoors seemed difficult to grasp, as the Community Advisory Committee for West Seattle’s city-sanctioned encampment met indoors. The group meets monthly at Arrowhead Gardens, a few blocks north of CSC’s site at 9701 Myers Way [map].
Along with the recurrent question about how long the camp would stay at the city-owned site, the committee heard updates on its current occupancy, which is down significantly.
On hand from the committee were Willow Fulton, a nearby resident, Aaron Garcia from the White Center Community Development Association, and Cinda Stegner from the Westside Interfaith Network, a coalition of West Seattle-area faith-based organizations. From the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which is now the camp’s operator, were executive director Sharon Lee and Josh Castle. And the lone city rep was, from the Department of Neighborhoods, Tom Van Bronkhorst.
The first update was from David, described as being authorized to speak for the camp board and as “a friend of the camp” who said he’s been serving as a mediator between CSC and LIHI. He said LIHI had recently delivered four more tiny homes and “a huge load of supplies – everything from kitchen supplies to coffee, flashlights, extension cords, and batteries” to the camp.
“It has been a process of the two organizations getting to know each other,” he said, working to “develop a constructive relationship.” That was an improvement from the bumpy initial relationship described at last month’s committee meeting.
David showed a map of the camp, marking where the tents and tiny homes are, along with other features of how the site is currently laid out. The printed report accompanying the map said the camp now has 41 residents, 27 men and 14 women, including 7 couples:
That’s down a third from the 63 residents reported last month. It has 35 currently “occupied sites,” 19 with tents, 12 with sheds, 4 with the aforementioned tiny homes. As a result of the population drop, the camp has 10 “livable vacant sites” (with tarps or tents) and 7 more sites that could hold LIHI-provided tiny homes.
Also reported, disciplinary stats for last month: 18 24-hour “bars” (being barred from the camp), 10 verbal warnings, one 7-day bar, one 3-day bar for “a couple who argued loudly, waking other campers, continued instances after warnings, accused of stealing, witnessed smoking marijuana in parking lot.” And 3 permanent bars were issued, one for a camper whose site had syringes with needles found after the camper had moved out; another for one who “missed securities” as well as ignored various instructions, and another who refused to sign up for security shifts and refused to honor a 3-day bar ordered as discipline. One person was put on “medical leave” because of head lice and told not to return until providing “a doctor’s note that she was lice-free.”
David said the camp has been working on its recordkeeping and now “has a pretty good idea of how people behave when they are in camp.” They have revised the code of conduct to bring together a variety of “provisions” for “a definitive list of rules so that everyone can follow them and if they don’t, the consequences are clear” without questions about the process:
David also read a “mission statement” that was part of the printed report:
1.To operate a transitional encampment which maintains a safe and stable physical and social environment to provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness
2. To help people move into permanent housing (in accord with City of Seattle’s goal of moving 40 percent of camp residents to permanent housing within 90 days) by connecting them with casework and otehr resources.
3. To build an extended community around the camp including supporters, volunteers, donors, and “alumni”
(former residents who have moved out of the camp into permanent housing).
Camp operator LIHI provided updates, too. First, executive director Lee took the microphone. Her updates:
-She recapped that $75,183 city dollars remained unspent by previous CSC operator Patacara to cover the rest of the year. LIHI has not yet “gotten paid,” but has continued to bring supplies assuming the city will approve it.
-“We are very concerned about the winter, in terms of the cold and wet and windy conditions. We really really really want Camp Second Chance to succeed” rather than not being renewed, “so we are accelerating what can happen – that’s why we moved in the four tiny houses … built by volunteers.” They’re assessing the power, for a possible upgrade, and hoping to bring in more tiny houses, and to have heat and light for them. “In the meantime we were very aware” of the wintry weather this weekend, so they offered that anyone who was really cold could go to their Community Room at Ernestine Anderson Place in the Central Area as of Friday, 7 pm-6 am, but Lee didn’t know if anyone had taken advantage of that offer.
-They offered the CSC case-manager position to a candidate who turned it down. So they have others helping with data and housing.
-A former Camp Second Chance resident now in LIHI housing was a featured speaker at the organization’s gala last week, with 350 supporters in attendance who now “all know about the work you’re doing and we’re doing at Camp Second Chance.” They had a raise-the-paddle donation round for tiny-house funding that brought in enough money for eight of them, Lee said.
-They need a warm place to build tiny houses and have been pressing the city to provide somewhere that could be done. Both mayoral candidates support more tiny houses – “up to 1,000 more,” Lee said – around the city.
-She said she had heard about an “unincorporated-area meeting” (apparently a reference to the October North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting) raising concerns about the RVs and other concerns outside the camp and hoped that wouldn’t be a barrier to its renewal.
LIHI’s Castle continued the update:
-They’re working to winterize as fast as they can. They’re trying to replace damaged/destroyed tents with ones that are sturdier and insulated.
-The ultimate goal remains replacing all tents with tiny houses.
-He acknowledged that issues outside the camp affect the camp too, so they want to work on those, and “pull everyone together” including (housed) neighbors.
Lee then addressed the citywide status of encampments, saying that since the Port of Seattle provided a new location for one of the sanctioned encampments, they’ve been working on setting up 35 tiny houses there, with a move-in planned in less than two weeks. There will be plumbing, and the port is leasing the land for the nominal sum of $10. Then, she noted, the camp currently operating under the “Nickelsville” name is moving to a Northlake site; it only has a few tiny houses so “we have to step up building tiny houses and finding more land so we can house more homeless people.”
If 1,000 more people could indeed be sheltered in additional tiny houses, Lee said, that would make a serious dent in the 4,000 people reported to be living unsheltered at any time.
Q&A and issue-raising punctuated the meeting in several spots, and some of the topics came back around multiple times. The discussion included:
An attendee from the camp, Chris, mentioned noticing recently delivered tents aren’t as secure as previous ones – closing with ropes instead of zippers. That was taken under advisement.
Another man spoke up next, calling himself a representative for the RV community and campers in the nearby woods, looking for “resources to address their needs that they have in the woods.” He said he had been filling up propane bottles the past few days and bringing them there because he’s worried about hypothermia, which can be deadly. “The people who live in the woods and RVs are interested in working with the organizations” that are interacting with the camp.
He brought along Red and Rose, who he said he found under the Alaskan Way Viaduct and was trying to find someplace to house them. Could they be accepted into the camp? Someone else in the audience gave them a phone number that could help them find somewhere to go.
Next to speak was Rebecca, mentioning that while someone is barred, their things might be “bagged and tagged” on a decision of the camp board, with the items put to the side, and the person, upon return, told they are no longer part of the camp. She said that doesn’t seem to be inclusive of the mission statement.
Then a question: Does the camp board have a president? Not currently.
Issue: One camp resident said “we’re only getting one shower a week” but would like more. Castle addressed that, saying they’re looking at “having a shower trailer” on site. They’re just waiting for funding, someone else added. In the meantime, the Union Gospel Mission, which brings its portable shower(s) to the camp weekly, apparently has no further room on its schedule to add visits. Another attendee suggested getting bus tickets so people could get transportation to Delridge Community Center, where showers have been available for use by people living unsheltered.
On another topic, Lee was asked what she meant by saying LIHI had not been paid for what it’s doing for Camp Second Chance. LIHI’s contract for CSC has not yet been finalized by the city, she explained.
Next question was about the camp’s second-year renewal for the site. The attendee was aghast that the camp might have to be dismantled. Lee said there was some talk of extending the original two-years-max plan for sanctioned encampments. DoN rep Van Bronkhorst took the microphone from there, explaining that the original idea for sanctioned encampments was that they’d be evaluated after a year, then potentially given a second year, but after that they would have to move. “We know the city’s investing, LIHI is investigating but there are potentially other issues that come up.”
The same person who thought renewal shouldn’t be an issue also wondered why the camp was partly dependent on philanthropy. Lee pointed out that for one, they don’t know what the second-year contract might be like, but that it would be a good idea for supporters to advocate with the City Council to include it in next year’s city budget, and to say that it should pay for tiny houses, among other things. (The budgeting process is close to the end – firstname.lastname@example.org is how to voice an opinion.)
Then: Why isn’t Camp Second Chance itself a third party to the city contract? Lee said she’s not sure, but LIHI has been incurring the costs spent on the camp so far.
Advisory committee members then got the microphone to ask their questions. Fulton first acknowledged the campers in the room for making it through a bumpy time, “helping each other survive,” and that brought applause from the room. She then acknowledged the weather was “getting much colder much faster than any of us expected it to” and wondered about needs for warm clothing; as had been included in the printed report, yes, they need the following:
Clothing in men’s and women’s sizes – “warm winter coats, insulated shirts and pants, socks, gloves/mittens, scarves, winter boots, long underwear (thermal), sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats” – plus blankets, sleeping bags, hand warmers
Fulton asked about the rat-abatement problem that was brought up at the previous meeting – the previous service had apparently been stopped at the time of the contract changeover; the contract hadn’t been renewed so far as a camp rep knew, but he said wooden traps had been delivered and time would tell whether they work. Lee said she thought they had contracted with a “new vendor” to provide pest-control services.
Continuing with committee members’ questions/updates, Garcia said that WCCDA’s annual summit yesterday had addressed related issues – “we’re going to be formulating a community committee, 15 to 20 residents” to talk about it, “to learn about the scope of need and have this discussion.” They would appreciate Camp Second Chance participation. He also said that Habitat For Humanity would be doing affordable home repairs next year, “on a sliding scale.” And Mary’s Place – which operates a family shelter in White Center – is having its quarterly meeting at 7 pm December 14th.
Stegner wondered if it would be possible to have a dorm-style structure, with heat, at CSC for the coldest nights, “if the camp wants that.” Camp reps said that overflow tents can’t have heating but they might be able to come up with some kind of way to make something work. She asked how much money is needed to fund the “shower trailer” mentioned earlier – about $600, was a camp rep’s answer; she said Alki UCC (which is already a camp benefactor) should be able to cover that.
Fulton had a question about the intake process, saying her mom had tried to bring someone to the camp for at least a temporary stay in the dorm tent, but it didn’t work out. A camp rep said that referrals had to be done through REACH so that they would have information on backgrounds. Lee added that CSC is supposed to take referrals from the Navigation Team, which meets each day, with updates on how much space is available and where.
The camp has 22 vacancies right now, it was pointed out. But someone else said they didn’t have everything they needed to accommodate more people.
Lee also wondered if there was a plan for some kind of Thanksgiving or holiday event for the camp. People would be willing to arrange something but there’s no definite plan right now that anyone knows about. Shortly thereafter, someone suggested having it in the camp parking area so they could include people from the surrounding area, not just the camp. A camp rep questioned that idea, saying they had issues with people from outside.
Then the issue of the camp’s tenure at the site came up again, from a neighborhood standpoint: Seattle Parks had said the camp would be there for two years maximum, and then Parks would take it over. Not true?
Van Bronkhorst acknowledged that the commitment was made for two years. But there’s been advocacy to the City Council “to make encampments’ (stays) longer” but he expected there would be pushback for extension beyond that. He said he feels the city will keep its commitment “on this encampment … as it stands today” and that this camp would be moved after two years, but as for others, he couldn’t say.
Fulton noted that currently the ordinance states two years, but her understanding as a community is that the ordinance “could change.” She also notes that the Parks Department has never said it would do something with the Myers Way Parcels (which former Mayor Ed Murray announced in 2016 would not be sold) after two years, but that it would go back to landbanked status since there’s no money to do anything with it. “So if the camp moves after two years, it’s likely we would end up with an empty space again,” with issues like the ones that existed before.
The person who was speaking noted that the camp site was originally illegally occupied because “(previous operator Patacara) cut the lock” (in July 2016). And he repeated his concern that the city would not honor its commitment to have the camp move after a maximum of two years.
A camp rep challenged him: Would you rather have the land sitting there empty?
He didn’t directly answer the question but seemed to be objecting to the cost of operating the encampment. “I would rather have everyone warm, safe, and dry. That said, the dollars don’t appear magically. They appear from property-tax levies … (that’s) the basis of what keeps this going, the property tax, which gets raised and raised and raised. …”
Garcia said that if the camp does get renewed for a second year, he expected the committee would then be working on a transition plan to figure out where its next location would be and how the transition would happen.
Another person identifying herself as a “simple taxpayer” suggested she was opposed to the concept of the camp moving. “The city needs accountability on this.”
Next question: What about organizing fundraisers? The man who asked it said he’s found housing and the camp “helped me so much” that he wanted to find ways to give back. Lee said LIHI is “open to fundraising.”
Another resident of the camp spoke next, saying she was there after an April fire in her apartment, though three of her fellow family members had found housing. She said she has deep roots in the community – her grandmother was West Seattle High School Class of 1926. “Homelessness wasn’t even on the scale five years ago.”
And then the issue of the “two-year lease” came up yet again, from someone who said it was “a huge improvement over the historical situation,” when encampments had to move every three months. “The fact our city is hosting encampments for one or two years is incredibly progressive,” as, he said, was the idea of having 1,000 more tiny homes available. But, he said, “there’s an interesting conflict in the model” because the encampments are meant to be temporary but there’s a “logjam because the supply of housing is simply not adequate.” And there’s a conflict because campers want to stay with people they’ve grown comfortable and familiar with. So he wonders about finding a model that “blends those two objectives.”
Another person offered, “These camps are a real solution for solving homelessness,” citing people she knows who have stabilized at the camp and found jobs and housing. “I think the camp should be allowed to continue.”
Committee leader Fulton wondered about the cost of moving encampments when their time runs out. Lee said the city has budgeted $150,000 for the upcoming moves of the two camps she had mentioned – “but that was not enough.” When campsites are improved, for example – for hygiene facilities and electricity – it doesn’t make sense to then tear all that out, and that’s why they are “looking for people to advocate” for potentially letting camps stay longer. Lee said LIHI had asked donors for money to bankroll some of that but “we just can’t keep doing that.” But, “the good news is that the city has found that tiny-house villages are cost-effective,” more so than, for example “the Navigation Center they set up.”
Then a person stood up and said, “Regardless of whether it goes on for two years or five years or whatever, how are you guys protecting what’s going on? There’s no accountability.” She also contended that Patacara’s contract went through February. Lee said that’s not the contract she’s signing – she’s signing a contract that goes through the end of the year. “It’s not my decision – they sent us a contract through December.” The questioner said that runs counter to a question she had asked at a previous meeting. Fulton suggested that people were “giving the best answers they could” at the time.
Garcia asked Van Bronkhorst to research when the city would project the end of a 2-year period – end of 2018 or early 2019? So that information should be available at the next meeting, which is scheduled for 2 pm Sunday, December 3rd, again at Arrowhead Gardens (9200 2nd SW).
P.S. We hope to soon receive electronic copies of documents made available at today’s meeting, and will add them to this story when we get them.
ADDED MONDAY NIGHT: The camp report and Code of Conduct have been uploaded and are embedded above at the relevant points of the story. Two other documents that weren’t described during the meeting but were handed out are also available – both from LIHI – the management plan (here) and service plan (here).